Sometimes using a burner phone isn't enough. That's a lesson learned for John Rivello, the Maryland 29-year-old currently facing federal and state charges for sending a flashing GIF to Dallas journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who is epileptic.
FBI agents arrested Rivello in Maryland late last week on the cyber stalking charges. On Monday, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. According to Rivello's Dallas County indictment, his local case will be treated as hate crime, because prosecutors believe he targeted Eichenwald, in part, because of the journalist's Jewish heritage.
Rivello's story starts with his decision, sometime in the winter of 2016, to harass Eichenwald online, according to federal court documents unsealed this week. Rivello, the feds say, purchased a Tracfone SIM card and didn't register it to any name. Then, using an iPhone with that SIM, Rivello operated a Twitter account with the handle @jew_goldstein, according to the FBI.
On December 15, 2016, @jew_goldstein tweeted a flashing GIF at Eichenwald, who was a frequent critic of Donald Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election. That GIF, according to Eichenwald, triggered a seizure. Eichenwald's wife, according to court documents, had to move Eichenwald away from his computer to stop the seizure. Then she tweeted back at the account now alleged to belong to Rivello.
@jew_goldstein This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 16, 2016
Shortly thereafter, as reported by the Observer's Jim Schutze, Eichenwald filed a report with the Dallas Police Department's cyber crimes unit. Soon DPD and the FBI were investigating the case, subpoenaing Twitter for @jew_goldstein's account information. Using a phone number associated with the account, law enforcement officers then went to AT&T, who told them that, while the number was associated with a burner SIM card rather than a name, it was tied to an iPhone.
That iPhone, according to records provided to the FBI and DPD by Apple was tied to an iCloud account. That iCloud account, in turn, contained all the evidence both law enforcement agencies would need to charge Rivello with cyber stalking and assault with a deadly weapon.
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According to federal court records, Rivello's iCloud account contained a photo of Rivello holding his Maryland driver's license. It also had the exact GIF he sent to Eichenwald, a screenshot of the GIF sent to @jew_goldstein by Eichenwald's wife and screengrabs of articles about strobing lights causing seizures in those with epilepsy.
Rivello's account also featured screengrabs of Eichenwald's altered Wikipedia page, which listed his date of death as December 16, 2016 and his hometown as Jew York City, Jew York, according to the FBI, as well as copies of Schutze's article from the Dallas Observer. Several tweets from @jew_goldstein were also saved in Rivello's iCloud account.